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The following is a guest essay in linguistic anthropology by noted and award winning author:

Kimberly Moynahan Gerson



                                                                          Language: What's your style?

Language barrier. Communications breakdown.  Misunderstanding. It happens all the time, but why? Sometimes the cause is obvious. We all understand that if I am speaking English and you are speaking Urdu, we will not be able to communicate except at the most basic level. We understand that even if we
both speak English, but I am American and you are Canadian, we will have moments of misunderstanding because of cultural differences that assign different words to different things or assign different meaning to similar phrases. And, as Deborah Tannen elucidated, and any married couple can corroborate, we also know that even if we are both American and we both speak English, if I am woman and you are a man, we may experience miscommunications because of sex-related differences in our communications styles.

But, there is another source of communications breakdown which can occur between people who speak the same language, are from the same culture, and may even be of the same sex. This has to do with our behavioural preference for either judging or perceiving.

To utilize information we have to do two things with it. First we must perceive it; that is take it in through one or more of our five senses and through intuitive processes. Then we must judge that information and decide what we think of it or what to do with it. These are two distinctly separate processes and each can be applied separately.  A person can receive information and never apply a judgement to it, or a person can apply a snap-judgement to something without having received complete information.

Humans fall into two equally populated categories when it comes to these two processes; those who prefer the perceiving process and thus withhold judging for as long as possible, and those who prefer to jump to the judging process as quickly as they can. This difference in preferences leads to a whole
array of behavioural differences between perceivers and judgers (as we will now refer to them) and is reflected in how we communicate.

Although everybody both perceives and judges, our language reflects which of these processes we prefer. And the differences between perceiving language and judging language, though subtle, can lead to miscommunications, endless rounds of argument, and frustration - each person thinking he/she is being perfectly clear.

So now let's examine the two ways, beginning with judgers, and see where the gaps lie.

First off, the term judgers does not imply judgmental. Let's get that premise out of the way right up front. We all have opinions. Everybody judges. Someone gives you cake and you decide it tastes good. That's a judgement. You're shopping for a prom dress and ultimately choose one, you have judged. You have songs that make you cry, people who make you laugh, jobs offers you've accepted, books you've recommended, and paths you did or didn't take. Every single time you make a decision, rank something, exclude something, or act on something, you have applied judgement. We all do it. The mark of a judger then is not that she judges, it's that she prefers judging over perceiving, and because of this preference, her opinions leak through in her communications.

When judgers communicate, their audience knows exactly how they've judged a situation, exactly where they stand, and exactly what they want.

Q: What do you want for dinner?
Judger: Turkey would be great! I love turkey.

Q: What time do you want to eat?
Judger:  6:00 is good. Then I'll have an hour to mow the lawn before we eat.

Q: Should we invite the Murphy's for dinner?
Judger: Absolutely not! That dog they always bring is a menace!

Child: I got an A on my essay!
Judger: That's great! You did a wonderful job on that essay!

See? Every observation is laced with a judgement statement. Judgers can
hardly open their mouths without adding their opinion.

Judgers are directive. They tell others what they want them to do.

Judging child: Hand me those Legos over there. Bring me the red ones.

Judging parent: This room is a dump! Clean it up before dinner or you are
not going out tonight.

Another key identifier of a judger is the propensity for using the phrase, "You should."  Because judgers spend relatively little time perceiving a situation and instead leap quickly to a judgement, they are ready with an "answer" almost immediately. This comes across as advising. Judgers offer the "fix" whether the person has asked for it or not.

Friend: I've been having trouble sleeping lately
Judger: You should try these herbal pills. They work great.

Child: I hate doing math homework.
Judger:  You should memorize your times tables so you can do it quicker.

Friend: Teenagers can be so hard to manage.
Judger: Oh, I have the perfect book you should read.

Because part of judging things means to rank them, judgers enumerate. Using this paper as an example (since I am a judger) you can see we use terms like "first," "next," "finally," and "to sum up."  Watch a judger speak long enough and you may even see her counting off on her fingers as she lists items.

When a judger is making a request she will be clear in what she is asking for and what she expects as an acceptable response. She will direct, quantify her needs, and judge the outcome.

Judger request for information:

Please provide me with the names, phone numbers, and email addresses of the CEO's of the top 10 pharmaceutical manufacturers in the US and Canada (as rated by the North American Pharmaceutical Association) before Tuesday, January 5th.

Finally, judgers like closure. That's what judging is - closure to the process of perceiving. Judgers like everything wrapped up and tied in a bow, so tend to close quickly, even at the expense of not having all the information.

Spouse: Where do you want to eat?
Judger: McDonalds is fine.
Spouse: But McDonalds is out of our way.
Judger: Oh you're right. Let's go to Pizza Hut then.
Spouse: No, Sarah doesn't like Pizza.
Judger:  Oh ok. Then we can just eat at home. I'll make burgers.

Each new piece of information brings another judgement, another attempt to close the process of decision-making. That's what judgers strive towards - closure.

Now let's look at the Perceivers -

People who communicate in the perceiving mode make observations in order to communicate their needs. They do not attach judging statements to their observations. They just state what they perceive as those perceptions unfold and leave it to the world to infer their opinion or wants.

Here are some typical examples of perceiving statements---

Q: What do you want for dinner?
Perceiver: We haven't had turkey in a long time.

Q:  What time do you want to eat?
Perceiver: I have to mow the lawn before it gets dark.

Q: Should we invite the Murphy's for dinner?
Perceiver: They always bring their dog.

Kid: I got an A on my essay!
Perceiver:  Wow! You haven't brought home an A in a long time!

Perceivers are not directive. They make observations that are intended to
elicit action on the part of others.

Perceiving child: I don't have enough red Legos to make this castle.

Perceiving parent: You haven't picked up your room in a week! Your friends
are going to be here in an hour.

Because they don't leap quickly to a judgement, perceivers don't presume to have the final answer to a problem, thus perceivers do not advise. Rather than supply "fixes" they merely ask for more information or they add more perceptions to the information that they've already received.

Friend: I'm having trouble sleeping lately
Perceiver: Really? I wonder why that is.

Child: I hate doing math homework.
Perceiver:  Math is something you'll need in life.

Friend: Teenagers can be so hard to manage.
Perceiver: Oh, I know what you mean. Trevor was a handful at 16.

When perceivers want to know something they make a statement which, to them, clearly illustrates their needs, but to judgers may not be clear. In fact, "illustration" is a good term for a perceiver statement. To get their message across, perceivers paint a picture of the how things look to them at the moment, the same way a painter paints a scene - with no judgement attached. It's up to the audience to interpret the views of the painter.

Perceiver request for information:

I have been out of work for three months. I have ten resumes to send to the CEOs of pharmaceutical companies. I live in North America and want to work for the biggest companies here. I start a temporary job on Tuesday, January 5th so won't have time to send them after that.

Because perceivers do not direct, it is sometimes difficult to understand what they want to do or want done. And the more they are pushed to make a judgement or give a direction - the more perceiving statements they supply.

Spouse: What time do you want me to serve dinner?
Perceiver:  I have to mow the lawn
Spouse: Well, how long will that take?
Perceiver:  I need to go get gas for the mower
Spouse: Do you think it will take an hour then?
Perceiver:  I haven't mowed for almost a two weeks.
Spouse: Maybe you should start now and finish after dinner.
Perceiver:  It'll be dark by 7.
Spouse: So then you want to mow first?
Perceiver:  I'll go out and get the gas.

Often in this kind of exchange, after about three or four rounds, the judger resorts to an exasperated, "Just answer the question!" and the perceiver is taken aback. "I did!"

In the end, this fundamental difference in communications style can lead to misunderstanding by both types of communicator:  Judgers feel that perceivers are indecisive, evasive, unclear and non-committal. Perceivers feel that judgers are quick to jump to conclusions, bossy, rushed, and judgemental.

Conversely, with a little education, each type of communicator could learn to value the strengths of the other's language preference. Neither of these is the "right way" to communicate. They each have a place and a time where they work better. Which type of communicator would be better at driving a large technical project to a timely conclusion? The forthright judger - someone who can direct people unequivocally and who is focused on closure.

But which type would make a better marriage counsellor? The non-judging perceiver-someone who doesn't vocalize his/her opinion but rather makes neutral observations and lets the clients draw their own conclusions.

Learning to recognize the subtle differences between judging statements and perceiving statements can be a valuable key to unlocking the real meaning and intent behind the speaker's words.

Further reading:

On perceivers and judgers:

Myers, Isabel Briggs and Myers, Peter B. "Gifts Differing: Understanding
Personality Type" Consulting Psychologists Press; ISBN: 089106074X; Reprint
edition (May 1995)

Keirsey, David. "Please Understand Me II: Temperament, Character,
Intelligence" Prometheus Nemesis Book Co; ISBN: 1885705026; (May 1998)

On language differences between men and women:

Tannen, Deborah, PhD.  "You Just Don't Understand: Men and Women in
Conversation. William Morrow & Co; ASIN: 0688078222; (June 1990)

Kimberly Moynahan Gerson
January 2, 2003

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